Widow of popular Philippine politician to run for vice-president, could boost ruling party in polls

Filipino Congresswoman Leni Robredo waves to the crowd during a political party gathering in San Juan city, eastern Manila, on Oct 5, 2015.
Filipino Congresswoman Leni Robredo waves to the crowd during a political party gathering in San Juan city, eastern Manila, on Oct 5, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (Reuters) - The widow of a popular Philippine politician has accepted a ruling party offer to run as vice-president in an election in May, which should boost the chances of victory for President Benigno Aquino's successor.

More than 54 million Filipinos will vote for a new president, vice-president, and about 18,000 lawmakers and local government officials in elections that happen every six years. "After deep soul searching, broad consultation and fervent prayers, I am accepting the challenge to run as vice-president of Secretary Mar Roxas," Ms Leni Robredo told a cheering crowd of supporters in Manila, referring to former Interior Minister Manuel Roxas.

Investors are closely watching the elections, fearing the political succession in one of Asia's fastest-growing economies could derail gains made during Mr Aquino's rule.

Mr Aquino has endorsed Mr Roxas, the grandson of the country's first post-war president, to lead the ruling party into the polls and Ms Robredo, a 51-year-old lawyer who won a seat in Congress in 2013, should boost the credibility of the ticket, analysts said.

While Mr Roxas' popularity ratings has jumped, according to the latest surveys, he is still in third place, trailing a novice senator Grace Poe and the incumbent vice-president Jejomar Binay.

Analysts say Ms Robredo brings a feeling of warmth and accessibility to Mr Roxas' image as a straightforward technocrat.

Ms Robredo has earned a reputation as a lawyer who helps poor farmers and fishermen and for being a steadfast opponent of corruption. Her late husband Jesse Robredo was interior minister when he was killed in a plane crash in 2012.

"I am offering my whole self to our countrymen, especially those wearing flip-flops out in the streets, at the bottom, and at the edges of our society," Ms Robredo told the crowd, echoing her husband's crusade as a champion of the poor.

Under Mr Aquino, the Philippines has seen economic growth of more than 6 per cent on average, its best five-year record in four decades.

The President, who is limited by the Constitution to a single term, has also battled to rein in corruption.

"Investors are looking for a continuation of the overall thrusts of the administration but with more attention to actual performance," Mr Steve Rood of the Asia Foundation told Reuters.